Eye on Interior Design: Joanna Thornhill

Do you move around a lot? Do you wonder whether you should start a gallery wall in your temporary home? Writer and freelance interiors stylist Joanna Thornhill tackles this an other questions in her recently released book “Home for Now.” In it, she offers first-time buyers and renters some clever tips and tricks for styling. Joanna’s expertise has led to features for magazines and commercial clients such as House Beautiful, WGSN-Homebuildlife and more. She also shares he thoughts on her blog Stylist’s Own.

We caught up with Joanna about her new book and her tips for styling a gallery wall. Keep reading to find out more! 

Tell us a little bit about what you do.

I’m a freelance interiors stylist and writer by trade — I pull together features and photo shoots for a number of different magazines and websites, from House Beautiful to Woman’s Weekly and many in between. I also style and write for commercial clients, including my own publishers, Cico Books, whom I style a number of other authors’ craft titles for. Every day is different in my world — I could be compiling images for a trends feature, out sourcing props for a photoshoot, on set styling or — more often than not! — getting on with boring stuff like admin and keeping on top of emails.

When did you first get interested in interior design?

I’d always been interested in interiors but didn’t particularly fancy being an interior designer per se, so I sort of ruled it out as a career option, yet I always wanted to do something creative and studied art and design up to foundation level, before moving to a degree in Fashion Promotion. Not quite sure what to do, I started out as a TV runner before moving into art department and props roles, which eventually led to me discovering the wonderful world of styling!

Your book “Home for Now: Making your Rented Space or First Home Beautiful” that was recently released. What inspired you to write it?

The idea came very much from my own experiences — I was a serial renter myself until recently and I’ve always tried to personalise my rentals without spending much money or upsetting landlords. And then, when I finally did make it onto the property ladder, I swiftly realised I couldn’t afford to do many of the things I dreamed I’d do in my own home, due to lack of funds and an awareness that we probably weren’t in our ‘forever’ home, which curtailed how much we were willing to undertake. 

I became frustrated that though there are so many great interiors books and magazines out there, I didn’t feel like any of them really related to my situation — either currently or back when I was a renter. I figured there must be plenty of other people in the same — living longer in a rental or stepping-stone home than they originally imagined and wanting to make the most of it, within their restrictions - especially with property prices spiraling once more leaving many people unable to move. I approached my publishers with just a couple of paragraphs and a few pictures and luckily they thought the concept had potential, and it all went from there!

What kind of art do you like?

Most of the stuff I own is a very eclectic mix of pieces from here, there and everywhere, artwork included — there’s not really been any curation about it! I’m a bit of a magpie so I wouldn’t say I have a particular style. I like pieces that have a personal resonance — my partner and I have several maps (both traditional and word maps) mainly of London, along with some pieces specific to Walthamstow, where we live, such as a framed 'Stowner’ (our 'local currency’), which has featured in the past on the E17 Art Trail, a print of a quilt depicting all the streets in our area (including our own), and a print featuring a quote by William Morris, whose childhood home – now a gallery dedicated to him – is just up the road. I also have quite a few bits of ephemera which I’ve framed up, from some beautiful old handwritten French school papers from the Lille Brocante, to crinkly Indian bank notes saved from a special trip there a few years ago. 

I’d love to take the 'next step’ with art in the near future and buy an original piece — a couple of the houses I photographed for my book were artists’ homes and I was particularly taken by the oil seascapes of contributor Dion Salvador Lloyd. His pieces are definitely an investment but hearing him talk about the joy of owning an original piece that just speaks out to you made me feel it’s definitely something I want to invest in one day.

What’s your best piece of advice when it comes to decorating a home with art?

I think really, it’s to just do it! I spent over a year um'ing and ah'ing about what to hang on my living room walls and eventually at Christmas I just thought sod it, and just framed up some stuff and put it up. It instantly transformed the room and made it feel like home.

And also on a more practical note, I find people often have a tendency to hang artworks too high, and too spread out – one great tip I feature in the book is to try hanging larger pieces so their centre is about 145-150cm from the floor, which is the average human eye height. It really does work! A gallery feature wall of lots of smaller artworks can be a great way to start a collection inexpensively, adding to it as funds allow — again, don’t allow the pieces to get too spread out over your wall, think about the spacing between them. To link them together visually, try to ensure there’s a common thread of some kind, be it subject matter, a colour palette or just keeping frames to the same style or colour.

Give us a fun fact about yourself. 

Back when I worked in TV, one of the best things I ever did was work on the Baftas (I think it was 2004) and I was specifically assigned to look after host Stephen Fry, who was absolutely lovely. I essentially spent the day backstage as major A-List stars waltzed past, from Scarlett Johansson to my teenage crush Keanu Reeves, and got 'papped’ helping Steven back into his cab at the end of the night. I then left via the red carpet to go home — utterly surreal and almost certainly the closest I’ll ever come to superstardom!